January was a pretty dreadful month, I think we can all agree. I had some grand ambitions for things that would be happening and most of them weren’t realised, including the bulk of the projects I had for the garden. I barely managed a minimum, and I know it’s an issue that many of my compatriots are struggling with. When the world is burning down, doing even the most basic of things feels both pointless and impossible. As February opens, I hope that I can get back on track with all the things I need to be doing, but January was a losing proposition.
However, I did go on some adventures to offset the misery, so instead of looking at my yard, you’re going to look at some other people’s, starting with Confluence Vineyard in Anderson Valley, which produces wines for Goldeneye, a vintner known for its pinots.
They have a pretty swanky fountain and you know it’s a fancy establishment because there were hardly any coins in it.
I also spotted these crocuses — first flowers of spring, they are rife with potent symbolism at the moment.
And of course the main event. Apparently many people haven’t seen dormant vines before, so, you know, if you’ve ever wondered what a vineyard looks like when it’s not in leaf or producing grapes, here you go: It looks like a bunch of sticks tied to some poles.
I also ventured up into Colusa County, which lies to the east of me, in the northern part of the Central Valley. That required traveling over the Coast Ranges, which always furnish a lovely view.
It also required passing through Lake County, but since I was driving you’ll have to imagine what the vistas might have looked like; through much of the journey, the road hugged the lake, and I saw an assortment of small towns trying to mop up after the storms. Lake is mostly rural, and like Mendocino, it has a very high poverty rate, exacerbated by the fires of 2015, which devastated a number of communities.
Colusa County enters into a part of California that’s not very well traveled, and a landscape that might be pretty unfamiliar to people who have very specific ideas in mind about what California is supposed to look like. There are no beaches, palm trees, redwoods, or headlands, no pine trees and shapely cypresses. It’s a hardscrabble place and one I find quite beautiful although the landscape may feel alien to some.
Since I was visiting a hot spring, obviously there was an obligatory geyser, and evidence of mineral deposits all around the property, including bright yellow streaks of sulphur and an assortment of caves that had once been heavily mined. At least one had become host to some bats, who were delighted to move in once it was abandoned.
I’ve written frequently about how people romanticise rural America. I spent a lot of time in very beautiful places in January but they came with harsh realities of race, class, and disability as well. The lack of interest in understanding rural communities as they are is feeding a vicious, hateful backlash against communities like these — people are happy to vacation in them while sneering at their residents, to talk about how ‘spiritual’ they are while going home to deride rural America. Sitting in the flumes, I had to grit my teeth while someone nattered on about growing up so poor as a child that her Bay Area-based parents could only afford a second home in Lake County, which was filled with meth heads and other scary things — her statements were so laden with privilege and disdain and a smug assumption that none of the people present were from there, you know, where the hicks live.
For those of you who travel, it’s something to think about. The only way to understand rural America is to go to rural America and meet people where they are, but if you do so through a veil of distance, you’re only seeing a fraction of the picture.
You’re not going to know rural America by going on wine tasting tours and spending the weekend at hot springs. You’re going to know it by staying in small towns for extended periods, by interacting with the community, by attending events and seeking to know people as people, not as restaurant servers and housekeeping staff and retail clerks. By building a reputation and trust so that people let you into their lives. It takes work, and that work is worth it if you truly want to break down the rural/urban divide.